Earlier this week, I had a great dinner out, followed by a decadent dessert with Italian meringue. But when I got home, although my instinct was to fall asleep for approximately 16 hours, that’s not what I did. Instead I sat up, panicky, for at least 90 minutes frantically Googling “Italian meringue” and “Italian meringue raw eggs” and “Italian meringue raw eggs pregnant” and “Italian meringue raw eggs pregnant damage to fetus???”
Ultimately, I learned that yes, Italian meringue has raw eggs in it and no, I shouldn’t have eaten it – but that I would probably be OK. In any case, the dangers of raw eggs pertain more to me than to the fetus; unlike listeria, which can cause stillbirth, raw eggs would sicken just me, subjecting the fetus to possible issues only if I became dehydrated.
I was relieved … but also annoyed by the whole situation. Sometimes it seems like every possible thing I put into my mouth has potential dire consequences for me and the baby, and at this point, I am not even sure which ones are valid and which ones are scare tactics.
When my mom was pregnant with me, she quit drinking and smoking and generally ate a healthier diet, but I don’t think she flew into a tizzy over the chance of eating the wrong kind of cheese. And my grandmother? Her doctor actually advised her not to quit smoking, telling her that the resultant weight gain would be bad for the baby.
I’m not advocating that strategy, obviously, but I do sort of think we may have gone too far in the opposite direction. Since getting pregnant, I have given up my face wash (salicylic acid is forbidden), my beloved evening glass of wine, my even-more-beloved second cup of coffee, the majority of my favorite cheeses (the day I found out that Mona’s uses pasteurized feta was one of the highlights of my pregnancy), raw oysters, sushi, raw cookie dough, pâté, Hollandaise sauce, tuna, smoked salmon and all kinds of cold lunchmeat. I have also slogged through two miserable colds with nothing but Tylenol.
None of this is the end of the world, obviously. Nine months is not that long, and of course, I would give up almost anything indefinitely for the blessing of a healthy baby. My problem is more that it’s so hard to tell where actual fact ends and just basic cover-your-ass medical advice kicks in. I almost feel like if I called my doctor up and asked her whether I could drink water, she’d say, “Well, we don’t have any studies showing that a certain amount of water is harmful, but of course, we really don’t know for sure about its effects. And so I would just err on the side of caution and try to do without it if you can.”
Now granted, I take all of this very seriously. I have friends who have eaten sushi or lunchmeat or smoked salmon or had the occasional glass of wine, and although I truly don’t judge them at all, I am way too risk-averse to be able to do any of that and not panic afterward (see above re: Italian meringue).
On the flip side, there is a ton of bad information out there and/or people not quite smart enough to interpret the correct information. And when you’re pregnant, your body and your choices seem to become public domain. While pregnant with Ruby, I was scolded by a coworker for eating peanut butter, which she assured me would cause a fatal allergic reaction in the fetus or else make Ruby allergic to peanuts, she wasn’t sure which. (For the record, Ruby more or less lives on peanut butter these days.) Another coworker said to me, “Oh, my goodness, you’re giving up coffee? How will you get your calcium?” – the logic of which still makes me shake my head. A stranger chided me in a sushi restaurant for eating a cooked California roll and a well-meaning employee at a bagel place told me that she wouldn’t give me cream cheese for my bagel because “soft cheeses are bad for pregnant women.”
I think the best, though, was the good ol’ Missouri boy stocking the vending machine in my office three days before my scheduled C-section. (Ruby was breech.) “I bet you want that baby out soon, huh?” he commented. I agreed and said I was relieved to have my C-section on the books and to know I didn’t have much longer to go. “Oh, a C-section, eh?” he said. “So are you going to try to do that natural – you know, like with that Lamaze breathing?” I am all for natural unmedicated childbirth, but the idea of someone cutting me open and pulling a 7-pound human out of me while I relied solely on deep breathing to get me through it … no. Just no. And yet when I told the nice man that I would definitely be having anesthesia, given that a C-section is major abdominal surgery, he shook his head and said: “I just hear those medications are dangerous to the little ones. Be careful what you choose.”
I have to say, New Orleans is in every way more laissez-faire than Missouri because this time around, I haven’t heard one word from anyone about what I should or should not be doing. If anything, people here seem surprised at my “abundance of caution” when I decline a glass of wine or try to get away from secondhand smoke – and believe me, this attitude is far preferable to being treated like a child who can’t be trusted.
Then again, if only my waiter had butted in and warned me about the raw eggs in the Italian meringue, I could’ve ordered the cookies instead and saved myself a lot of anxiety.
What did you avoid while pregnant? Were there any things on the no-no list that you ate anyway? Did people try to mind your business for you? And if so, did it drive you crazy or did you appreciate it?